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Insulate Britain: blocking roads will alienate some people – but it’s still likely to be effective

3 12 23
20.09.2021

Insulate Britain is a campaign group urging government action on greenhouse gas emissions and fuel poverty in the country’s housing stock. Their methods have recently landed them in the news, as activists blocked parts of the M25 – the motorway surrounding London – by sitting on slip roads and in the carriageway until their removal by police.

The long delays their protests caused drew outrage from motorists and much of the media that reported it. So what is the purpose of this kind of disruption, made popular in recent years by Extinction Rebellion (XR)?

The American sociologist Charles Tilly argued that all protest actions were what he called WUNC displays: shows of worthiness, unity, numbers and commitment. The goal was not to stop or make something happen directly, but to demonstrate the strength and appeal and values of the protesters, so that both those in power and the general public would listen to their message.

Direct action groups tend to be slightly different from traditional social movements: their actions typically carry higher risks, and they tend to have fewer organisational resources. While they are very committed, being “respectable” isn’t necessarily so important, and the actions are typically carried out by relatively small numbers of people. Creating disruption helps make up for these shortcomings.

Protest is the language of people denied access to power – it is designed to draw attention, to be seen and heard. It is much more likely........

© The Conversation


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